As spine specialists in Seattle we have the opportunity to help many people that are suffering from chronic back pain. We know the burden that pain can place on life and family and are dedicated to exploring new and traditional options for treating pain. One treatment that has proven effective is known as spinal cord stimulation. If you aren’t familiar with this procedure, keep reading and learn more.
What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal cord stimulation uses a small stimulator device to deliver electrical signals to the spine. Stimulating the spine with small electrodes has known analgesic (or pain relieving) properties. This procedure can be used to treat a variety of different conditions, but is most commonly used to treat failed back surgery syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome and other intractable spine related pain conditions. It is an option that is generally used only after other less invasive treatment options have failed. It can be an effective way to reduce the amount of pain medication needed.
How Does the Stimulator Work?
Spinal cord stimulation uses a small impulse generator (stimulator) implanted under the skin to provide pain relief. The small device is placed under the skin on the lower back or buttocks. A thin wire travels under the skin from the stimulator to the epidural space at an appropriate level of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine in close proximity to the surface lining of nerve tracks in the spinal canal. It is not directly on the spinal cord, but remains in a potential space called the epidural space similar to epidural injections for steroids and also for labor analgesia. This tiny electrode coated wire will carry the electrical current from the impulse generator to the spine. When the stimulator is turned on it sends extremely low electrical stimulates the nerves creating a tingling sensation. The electrical impulses interfere with the body’s ability to transmit pain signals to the brain, thus resulting in less pain and discomfort. The effectiveness of this treatment varies from patient to patient. Some people find that the tingling sensation is uncomfortable reducing the effectiveness of this treatment option.
In some instances we will test the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation before implanting a stimulator. If a stimulator is implanted and needs to be removed for any reason it can often be done without permanent damage to the back or spine.
Who Can Benefit from Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Some patients and conditions are better suited for this treatment option than others. The best way to tell if you are a good candidate is to talk with your doctor. We love helping patients find solutions for their back pain and would be happy to meet with you and discuss your condition including if spinal cord stimulation is right for you. Only a doctor can determine if you might benefit from this procedure and help you decide if the risks of this procedure are worth the benefits.
What Are the Risks?
As with any procedure in medicine and surgery, there are risks associated with spinal cord stimulation. Implanting the device is invasive and can lead to infection, bleeding and dural puncture. Electrical devices can fail, and even with a successful implantation the device may need to be replaced or repaired. This procedure is effective in about 50-70% of cases. It is important to have a successful trial before implantation of permanent device. The trial procedure is relatively less invasive and does not require surgery per se. The trial device is inserted temporarily under the skin and taped for 1-3 days usage to check things out.
Permanent implantation is recommended only for patients that report pain relief of 70% or greater. We do not recommend implantation for 50% pain relief during the trail period. Once you have a device like this implanted you will need to follow with your specific device manufacturers and physician for long term care and guidance which might include restrictions and avoidance of electromagnetic or ultrasound environment. Your doctor can explain all of the risks of this procedure.
If you have back pain contact us today and schedule an appointment.
At the Spine Institute Northwest we specialize in advanced diagnosis and pain relief treatment for acute and chronic neck, thoracic and lumbar conditions using minimally invasive spine surgery in Seattle. We would love to help you find a solution to your back pain.